Friday, September 29, 2017

Cliff Kid's Adventure Games

When I was first offered the opportunity to work in extended collaboration with CLIF Kid it was one I embraced immediately. Not only because we are longtime fans of the brand but also because they are a company I respect greatly in their endorsing active lifestyles and inspiring adventure in the every day. They support and promote local business, are vocal and proactive about pressing issues, in specific - climate control and global warming, and remain a positive example of what big brands can accomplish without sacrificing the kind of grass roots integrity they are founded on. And these days we could certainly use more like them.

Basically I have only praise in support of the Clif bar company. The original bars, back in the day, were my main source of mid-day fuel during the college years. When life on the go makes for an easy excuse to skimp on food, and, well, nutrients in general. Since then, CLIF Kid bars have become a mainstay in our family as far as beloved snack options go. The scene at this house whenever a new delivery arrives play like the hunger games to that after school famine. I always keep a box on hand and appreciate the fact that their gluten free options are just as delicious as the rest. Which Leon will tell you sadly is not always the case with such things. 

Earlier this month, as part of this partnership, we were invited to attend the Kid's Adventure Games up in Big Bear. A thrilling timed obstacle race constructed along the mountain side which seeks to emphasize "teamwork, problem solving, sportsmanship, environmental awareness and fun." Where the kids cross the finish line, "muddy, sweaty, smiling and full of pride." Arlo and his friend Jamal competed as a team in the three mile course and had a blast making their way to the finish line in a run that entails everything from rock climbing, to zip lining, to water sliding, to mountain bike riding and plenty of other fun and filthy obstacles along the way. I think we had an equally great time though watching and rooting them on from the scenic sidelines. Enjoying that crisp mountain air on a breezy Saturday with perks of free snacks for the boys and a full bar on deck for us. All in all a lovely day in the name of big adventure. One we're likely to return to again down the line. 

Until then, many thanks to CLIF Kid for having us. For always inspiring new and creative means of outdoor exploration and remaining true to the same esteemed intentions that started them.

More info on the Kid's Adventure Games Here

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Topanga Canyon with Airbnb

Nevermind the fact this getaway happened weeks ago - the start of summer if I'm being honest, being the kick off trip to our partnership with Airbnb - if you're following along here, you know chronological order tends to wane, and really for no other reason than time. It's slim and there's never enough to allow me to exist as orderly as I'd like. But so goes life.

There story with this place though isn't so much about location or even the house per say - both of which I readily adore. Topanga being one of my very favorite weekend points of retreat. And the house, a breezy adobe with an earthy treehouse vibe, beautifully decorated with a cozy bed loft, darling kitchen and hosts who just so happen to be as pretty (and handsome) as the wide lot they inhabit here, is just as incredible as the photos (and reviews) suggest online. Like I said, Airbnb is great that way. I can't think of a single time my expectations weren't utterly exceeded by a booking.

Our time in Topanga was loose, languid in the best way. Spent napping on the hammock on the deck up top. Running downtown for beer and Popsicles when the heat set in. Sitting around the table in the shade playing cards and making peanut butter sandwiches and sliced mango fruit bowls for lunch. Denise and the girls came up one night to stay with us but we proved just as lazy as a bunch. Skipping the beach outings and the restaurants down the road off the highway where we typically go for margaritas and burritos. Sticking around the lot instead. Holed up in that amazing garlic shaped teepee, scattered with pillows convincing one to lay down and read a little longer. Which I did. Incredibly enough.

The owners had given me a back story on the place which left me slightly mesmerized hearing it from his point of view - about his first introduction to the house - taken randomly by a friend to a party in the remote area of this hillside to a packed yard gathered for a bluegrass party where he had visions of it being his home one day and watching his first son be birthed in the bed upstairs. A house he, by a weird twist of fate, ended up in years later. Along with the lady he feel in love with months after when a friend suggested her as a roommate for him. And yet my fascination feel heavy on details surrounding about the original owner. A young french couple, both of them sailors, who had come to the states to build this very practical adobe abode - with boat proportions as their main guide - and made it home to a family of children she had here in the house. He told me she was a "character" a vivacious women with a cigarette pressed constantly between her fingertips. Lively, attractive, and adventurous with quite a life story to tell. The descriptions of her kept taunting my innate love of oddly placed people with a vibrant history. And, well, vibrant French women in general. So I did what any right minded person struck with a piercing intrigue would do. I google stalked her late into the night and found her working as a local real estate agent with a newly constructed house further up the canyon that is described as a mod but minimal true tree house design. With half of the home space open to the outside as well as news on her son, on another property below, building one of the first man made ocean boat sleep stations that is, based on what I could find, essentially a boat set atop a constructed ocean cove for sleeping in for the pure sake of blissful quality rest periods.

Needless to say, I was semi obsessed by it all. An infatuation only amplified when I stumbled unto the neighbors house on our last day there while walking the dog up the hill and was caught snooping by a young girl on the top balcony who called out with a hypnotic inquire so slight I kept thinking I must be hearing things until I finally spotted her there smiling at me down below. She told me her name and how long she had lived there. I invited her down to meet the kids at the house but she said she had to ask her mom first. When her mother appeared on the sprawling rock lined deck she was kind and equally inviting. I told her I was staying at the place down the hill and had been up admiring her house so she showed me around, pointing out the ravens lined on draping branches in her courtyard who flock to her eager as dogs as she speaks of them. I ask how long she's lived there and she says two years. A purchase made on a whim when she went to see it and fell in love on the spot. The house, then, on the brink of foreclosure. The original owner being the same French women who built the Airbnb property with the back history I was dying to unravel.

She mentioned many of the same characteristics of this mysterious French women as my host, but in vaguer detail. The house though filling in where her details recede. Stunning architecture obvious from every corner I take as I make my way around the place courtesy of the sweetly offered tour. Wood windows 20 feet high, bed lofts in odd but brilliant places, custom closets and arched entries overlooking lush, overgrown landscape and wood beamed delight throughout a kitchen cooler than anything I've ever managed to save on Pintrest. And yet everything I've come to except from this, a women I've never met but am by now growing desperate to somehow.

When I return the house is full of dramatics about me being gone so long. They were worried but more so annoyed. I tell Denise about the good luck of this home tour and the kids about the talking ravens in the tree but they go mostly unappreciated and before I know it we are all packed in a hurry, hungry, grumpy, and driving down the dusty trail back towards home. The newly illuminated vision of that women sitting on my brain. A vision secured later that night when I find more photos of her online where she is dutifully manning the ropes of a sailboat in the rain somewhere in early 70's. Cigarette hanging dully from her lip as she steers the boat. Blue raincoat and blunt blonde bangs. And I am enthralled. I think to myself that if I knew anything about movies I'd write a script about her. Or if I had patience for a novel I'd write a book on her. Perhaps if I were braver I'd track her down and buy her a drink, but I'm none of these so she ends up here. Main subject of a post I meant to dedicate to easy travel but fell in love with a backstory instead.

So thank you, Airbnb, for letting me do so. For putting us up and allowing us to discover these new incredible places that never have a shortage of intrigue, ambience and appeal. For me, it's always the best part.

Property link here

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

“Can I show Dana the binder?” Annabelle asks Joan. She says yes, and Annabelle places a large black three-ring binder on my lap. It has tabs for each year, starting in 1979. Under each tab are dated typewritten lists of names. Many are familiar to me, from George Stevens to Gloria Steinem to Bret Easton Ellis. “J & J & Q” is often typed at the top (John, Joan, and Quintana). Annabelle says, “It is Joan’s record of the dinner parties they gave, who came and what the menu was.” That Didion typed and kept these lists I find both eccentric and moving, a fascinating meld of her precision as a writer and her vibrant social life. I turn the pages to the menus Joan prepared. (Planned but not fussy, for example: “Roast chicken with rosemary. Roasted garlic, scallions, carrots, celery. Goat cheese and Brie. Olives. Bibb lettuce vinaigrette. Chocolate and almonds.”) When I contact her later by email, I ask if there was any tension between work and entertaining, the serious writer and the person who loves to cook and throw big Easter parties. Her reply: “There was never tension. Easter parties are important to me.” - Via Vogue 

I'm guessing if there is anything in this world that will finally force me to figure out how to hook up our TV at this house, it's the release of long awaited Didion documentary. One I've been eagerly chasing since news of it broke early last year. *As I've mentioned before, she's a long time favorite of mine and the subject of a reoccurring dream of mine that I've had for years, in which she is my neighbor and I drop by casually to stalk her home, her words, her style, and wisdom. I haven't had it in awhile, so maybe seeing this will awaken it. Because it's been a really fun thing to live out. 

Like anyone who admires her greatly, over the years I've become just as enthralled with her personally as I am by her writing. This documentary (debuting October on Netflix) is such a treat that way because it delves into everything inside that. Offering an intimate peak into her home life (and home decor which I am utterly obsessed with) family memories, essay insights, thoughts on her work, and some pretty somber questions concerning life and loss. Also, how fabulous does she look here? 82 and stunning as ever.

I'll be set up with wine and cheese the night it lands. Cleo too. Because she's the only other female in this house and therefore ordered to adore absolutely everything I do. So long as we can get the damn TV working, that is.

Friday, September 15, 2017

With Love, The Kraus Family

Of all the good that is apparent in this move, there is something to be said about starting over. Carving your mark in a new neighborhood, town, school, social setting, ect. Getting reacquainted with the kind of old insecurities you thought had long escaped you. But on certain days manage to compile just right, in a way that warrants new shades of slight loneliness. Even if the ocean down the street should be remedy enough to most anything that can possibly blight the heart. 

Still, cars are honking at me whenever I drive because I get lost and go slow. The scenery is all too pretty. The women at the grocery stores don't know me. The office staff in the schools look right past me. And the mail lady doesn't know my name. But on the other end there are restaurant options and coffee haunts that are endless to us in a way we've never known. And I'd be lying if I I said we're not having quite the time exploring these new surroundings but I've never been big on change. Of the list of complaints we filed over the past few years regarding our old location, it was, for my entire life, home to me. Easy and comfortable. The house on Kalmia, where we brought four children home to, watched them take their first steps, taste their first foods, make their first friends. Likely the reason we stayed so long even though we knew in many ways we were slowly outgrowing the area around us. A city I was born and raised in and never found enough reason to venture out of until the boys got to the age they are now and we decided timing was now or much later. That we had to make the break or hold out until they are out of the house. Knowing we needed to get away from the ever growing traffic clog our community had become, and wanting a more bustling and engaged environment for the second phase of our boy's childhood. In the end, we choose the now.

What that entailed though - and maybe something I wasn't even entirely aware of until recently - was giving up the village we built along the way. A decade of motherhood that saw me as a 26 year old teaching credential drop out settling into a newly constructed housing track, hoping to forge a sense of community there in midst of it. Which we did. In our own time. In spite of some of the preconceived notions that seem to stick to us for whatever reason whenever we are new to a scene. From the outside though, I guess I can see why. How simply we're cast as the quirky family with all the boys down the block. Stirring up noise and chaos everywhere we go. "Stoners?" "Hippies?" "Photographers?" "Mechanics?" Barefoot, opened doored, and aloof. All of which my neighbors fessed up to concluding about us the night we sat together over a bonfire in the backyard of Monica's house as a farewell parting the weekend before we moved. We all laughed. Knowing as odd as we might appear from the window panes lined on that old Culdesac, they all eventually grew accustomed to our ways. The old cars, the swarm of children, the dead car batteries, the dog who belonged to everyone and anyone in the community, the boys and their wild daily stunts, most times without shoes or sound judgment. And we to them. The same way. Where we eventually came to embrace each other wholeheartedly. Like a neighborhood should but rarely seems up to anymore these days. 

I think back to some of the highlights that street holds. The homemade tamales on my doorstep on afternoons when I needed them most. The fresh salsa and forced Tequila shots from Jesus and his big boisterous family next door. The janitor who became like family to us all at the elementary school, the block parties and neighborhood watch endeavors to ward off car break ins and wandering night prowlers spotted on home surveillance systems. The cheers along the street when Arlo first learned to ride a bike on his own. All the neighborhood egg hunts and fresh bread deliveries from Richard across the street. The extravagant ice cream cones handed out by the quiet Asian women named Katherine with the fancy car and the endless furniture deliveries at her drive way. The big smile on Taylor's face the day he stood out on his front porch holding a 40, starring down the newest neighbor who was threatening that day to call the cops on the crowd of boys who had gathered in front of our house, the kind of audience you gain by exploding ice bombs on the street corner using the dry ice in your mother's ice cream delivery. "They playing with Science!" He told her. Dry faced. Unmoving because "this is how we do it around here" he said, with the kind of steady resolve no new comber would dare argue with. 

He had our back. They all did. In that small suburban microcosm, they watched out for ours and we for theirs in that long blooming decade, that saw as kids with fake money earned by inflated equity scores to depressed home owners tending to the spread of dead lawns and abandoned houses that eventually claimed our street. Until the people and the market cycled upward again. Eleven years we spent growing alongside one another as families starting out, breaking up, having kids, making memories. Getting through it.

I got a message on Instagram a few weeks after we left. Just before the weight of this whole notion had settled in me. From a girl who said she had visited our house once, years ago, as sidekick to our baby sitter and explained what an impact our home had had on her. She wrote about the decor, the instruments strewn around the house, the warmth she felt there, and the admiration she carried for us even after only a single visit. She thanked me for showing her this way of motherhood, following along on social media there after, complementing me in ways I never imagined a 16 year old girl might be inclined to. The funny being - when I went back to try and remember her and this night she writes about, I recall something very different. I remember being in a frantic rush to get to wherever it was we were headed. Greeting Jade, running over a list of footnotes about the boy's routine, being introduced to her friend, offering them pizza and apologizing -with genuine guilt - over the house being such a mess. Reading her take on it made me see how refreshing it is on the rare occasion we get to catch things from another perspective. One more forgiving and far more flattering than the one we cary ourselves. What made me happiest though was that of all the things I worried about in that moment, none of it counted in that first impression, in comparison to what the bigger picture represented to her. Instruments used and messes made and life lived in a harmony all it's own. Something that spoke to a 13 year old girl I never saw again. Something we all strive for, that I managed to convey without any tried effort. Without ever knowing it.

A second sentiment that echoed much of the same came from the neighbor girl Katie a little while later. Her post bringing me to tears the morning I read it and still makes me ache reading it here again today. With gratitude and sentiment for pieces of the past I know I'll hold dear in my heart always. 

The week after we left she wrote:
"On a usually rather lively street, filled with the many noises of skateboards, scream, giggles, and the occasional "ARLOOOO!" this week has been so very quiet. (Far too quiet for my liking) It still has not occurred to me that the four boys that I watched grow in front of my eyes for 6 years are gone. To Arlo, you continue to blow my mind everyday. You are so incredibly talented and your passion for what you love inspires me, more than you know. You're going to be a star someday I'm sure of it. To Leon, there will never be a day I don't miss seeing your sweet smile when I'm off to work. Your kindness and compassion is radiant, you made everyday warm and fuzzy. Please never loose that incredible trait of yours. To Rex, you are truly the definition of beauty in madness. You drove us all wild but we loved you anyway. Although I won't miss the doorbell rings at 7 am, I will miss your crazy spirit. To Hayes, sweet Hayes, that golden curly head of yours is such a sight. Your brothers are quite the bunch and you are so lucky to have them. I know they will bring you up in the best way possible. And to Mike and Jessica, thank you. Thank you for opening your beautiful house to the community. And for making the Kraus household a home for everyone. Thank you for giving me my first ever paying job. I will never forget those late night babysitting calls.Thank you for showing me that love and family and friends is an art form all it's own. Thank you for inspiring me to start capturing the best moments in life. And for creating some of those moments too. 

I love all of you so so much. And I miss you tons already, please come visit. Until then, I'll be watching you grow through the screens of my phone. 

Your favorite baby sitter ever. 
P.S Don't forget us on the old street."

The kind of farewell that made me certain of just how much love and life we poured into that house and street during our time there. The holiday's, the late nights, the heart breaks, the lets downs, celebrations, and so many good old casual porch hangs where neighbors came and went. Seasons shifted and kids grew. 

Things I think about sometimes when I drive slowly making my way around a town I don't know yet, and wait with a worried heart as three boys shuffle off to new schools. Nervous and vulnerable. The way I never had to because I went from school to school with the same group of kids from kindergarten on. Fretting that they might go overlooked or feel lost amidst so many unfamiliar faces. Even when my better judgment tells me it will all be fine. 

Forcing myself too to make peace with new routines and befriend unfamiliar faces of my own. Inside a city who doesn't yet see us. A blank slate missing the history we took pride in at the old place. Grateful that we have the support of old friends on our side, who drop by and check in on us, but also knowing that the frame of that old community is likely not something we might every fully regain. Yet in that, room for new experiences where we cling to paths we have yet pave. Excited for this new chapter. Where I can only hope our next mark is carved as evidently in love. That I remain enlightened by the view those young girls I paid small cash on all those weekend nights while the boys were so young carry of us still. Who managed to convince me - via the ways of social media sentiments - that maybe we're not doing it so wrong after all. 

In the meantime, we've got plenty of streets to learn, friendships to forge and beaches to see. 

Thank you Kalmia, for all the good, the bad, and the wild times.
With Love,

The Kraus Family

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stuck ON

Eddie Vedder

He was my first crush. On a modern rock God. Pearl Jam, the first CD I ever bought. Using my own money, 10$ at Tower Records when I was 12. I have photos from that era where his influence can clearly be noted. Almost embaressingly so. My brother's baggy flannels, new but purposely wrecked mid lace doc martens, beanies, and the same ragged long hair hanging beneath. Sans all fiery sex appeal of course. I loved him but I also wanted to be him.

Eddie Vedder, the only boy I pined for at an age when real life boys didn't interest me in the least.

I got the chance to see him this past weekend at the Ohana Fest down the street from us in Dana Point. On a blanket with a friend last minute for free. As apparently the venue was designed to include. So beach goes and surfers alike could listen to live music on the sand same as those who paid to be there and had stacked bleachers, closer views and cold beer stands on their side. A frantic treck made specifically to catch Fiona Apple's set (another long term crush of mine from the old days) but ended up the igniting force behind my teenage crush on Eddie instead. Being reminded of the raw power in that voice, the humor in his banter, and the obvious humbleness in character that can't be faked. In a way I guess I fell in love all over again. This time as a women, not a girl, for a middle aged man playing a ukulele in the moonlight, not a growling snarl of hair inside a mosh pit like the brunt of those young snarling Seattle day images we use to tear from magazines to tape to our bedroom walls next to lyrics we sourced and claimed proudly.

It made me think how great it is to see the music you love change and evolve alongside you. And I was suddenly grateful for the own fumbling songs I hear on the Uke around my own house these days as young boys learn their way around one too. But mostly, I was just happy to see great taste doesn't expire. And some good things grow into even better things. And that free concerts under the stars are still a thing. And reviving new crushes on old rockstars isn't a bad way to spend a weekend. And that maybe, just maybe, now that the cooler weather is sneaking in, a few of those baggy worn flannels might be calling my name.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tomales Bay with Airbnb

Pairing up with Airbnb this year was one of the major highlights of our summer season. As for travel options, we long gave up the notion of standard hotels after Hayes came along, and a pleasant hotel stay with four kids seemed almost impossible. And switched to booking houses With Ab&b instead. So the opportunity to work as a family ambassador for the company felt a little like a dream gig in that it allows me to delve into one of the things I love most: taking road trips as a family. Visiting new areas to photograph, write and share about. Exploring, sleeping in new towns. And everything else that goes along with road tripping on the whole. In pairing with them we also get to experience some of the incredible houses I've kept on my checklist for ages now. The Blue Baie Cottage, hunkered on a stunning chunk of Tomales Bay, being one of them.

This particular house was a property I stumbled upon early last year, while trying to coordinate a coastal vacation up north with friends that fell through, but my obsession with the cottage stuck. Naturally it was one of the first listings I submitted as option for our second point of of destination on the heels of our annual lake stay in Nacimeinto (seeing that we were half way there anyway and breaking up an 8 hour drive with a car full of kids is always a wise choice whenever possible) Which is exactly what we did. Woke early and headed out of Paso Robles to arrive in Tomales late afternoon. After a series of pit stops along the way, naturally, because this is how it goes traveling with a crew of 8.

Marin county exceed every expectation right upon arrival. It was my first time there and while I expected it to be breath taking, in the way all coastal towns are breath taking, I didn't expect the kind of majestic awe it awakened in me. I've seen the glory of the California coastline countless times before, but driving into Marin was something special, something mesmerizing. The twists and turns of a lush hillside that dropped us into wide open plains colored by wheat landscapes peppered with blooming flowers, roaming cows and wild horses greeting us en route. The salt tinged scent of brisk sea breeze out our windows, thin wood fences carving ragged dividers between house and water, wind on our face and handsome old oak trees scattered everywhere we looked. Boats docked all along the harbor like a gleaming vision of the California that makes it onto the old postcards we don't send anymore - but probably should - to evoke envy in all the people we left behind. To ensure that we are having a wonderful time away. Because it's more romantic than Facebook.

The cottage was exactly what I was hoping it would be too. Better even (because with Airbnb, in my experience, most times they are) The house, anchored on the edge of the bay, surrounded by other equally quaint houses and densely beautiful wild succulent landscape. With a cozy, lived in interior and well stocked kitchen. Two couches that folded out into beds and one gorgeous loft space up top where the water hangs like a curtain of blue out every window. Not to mention the kindest host who went out of her way to ensure our stay in the house was nothing short of perfect.

Our first day we spent in the good company of friends. Jessica's cousin and his girlfriend arrived in the evening to prepare the kind of feast that best belongs in the pages of fancy foodie magazines. Steak, caviar, tiny pancakes, exotic watermelon salad, lobster and mashed potatoes. Washed down with red wine and old jazz (with a healthy dose of Justin Bieber thanks to the 13 year old girl in our company just as the Despicito fever started to spread) as the sun dipped below the bay shoreline. But the ultimate perk, if I had to choose - is the little hot tub on deck. Where I spent the bulk of my morning hours relaxing. Discovering just how invigorating it is for the soul to stew in heated water on slow foggy mornings overlooking the endless bay with champagne in hand. Hayes bobbing alongside me for a good long hour, naked save for his little turquoise floaty, equally delighted by the slow situation of the morning. The kind of day I'll remember as one of our best. That hot tub, probably biggest reason we didn't get out and see as much as I had planned for. Because in all honesty, it's hard to compete with a spa sitting atop a view like this. Even when your better intentions stockpiled a list of "35 things to do in Tomales Bay" prior to booking the place.

A few things we did manage being:
An obligatory stop for snacks at Cow Girl Creamery
Cocktails at sunset over at Nick's Cove
A mid day visit to The Lighthouse
Oysters To Go from The Tomales Bay Oyster Company
A day trip to Saulsilito (dining at Poggio / Shopping at Heath)

All the stuff Northern California dreams are made of. Leaving you forever craving of another northern road trip. Until next time, Marin County.

With many thanks to Airbnb for putting us up.

If you're considering a trip up to Marin country in the near future, here's a list of the other properties I bookmarked as some of my favorites.